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John Singer Sargent: The Nauralist Portraitist of Upper-Class Society

By John Singer Sargent -, Public Domain, Link

Depicting high society figures through vibrant Impressionistic brushstrokes and untraditional compositional solutions in order to capture their personalities, aspirations, inclinations, distinct characteristics and even reputation, the Italian-born American painter, John Singer Sargent, is revered as the most successful portrait painter as well as a gifted landscape painter and watercolorist of the 19th century.

Famous for providing an enduring image of Edwardian-age society, Sargent was born on January 12, 1856, in Florance, Italy, to wealthy American parents. He began demonstrating his artistic talents at a young age and soon enrolled at Accademia Delle Belle Arti, Florance. In 1874, Sargent entered the teaching atelier of Carolus-Duran, a leading portraitist in Third Republic France.

Carlos-Duran, an admirer of Velazquez, taught his students to break free of the rigidity of the old master’s style and to work directly on the canvas with a loaded brush. Internalizing these techniques, Sargent’s later works would come to be recognized for their immediacy, emotional depth, and refined technique.

In 1876, when Sargent was in his early 20s, he made his first trip to the United States. When he got back to Europe, he continued traveling, using his voyages as opportunities to study great works of arts and try his hand at portraying diverse locations. In 1877, he began exhibiting his works in Paris Salons and met with immediate critical and popular acclaim. In 1879, he embarked on an extended period of travel to Holland, Spain, and Venice in order to deepen his acquaintance with the Old Masters.

After returning, Sargent received several portrait commissions and quickly established a reputation for capturing the unique qualities of his sitters and his full-length images of high-society women attracted a great deal of attention. In 1884, his Portrait of Madame X caused a scandal, prompting his move to London soon thereafter.

In 1885 and 1886, Sargent began experimenting with painting en plein air. Some of his work was done in Monet’s company, during visits to the French artist’s home Giverny. By 1890s he became so popular and was frequently invited to the United States for commissions. At the height of his fame, he had begun to grow weary of portraiture and the restrictions of painting for patrons.

In 1907, Sargent closed his studio and turned his artistic attention to landscapes, watercolor, and architectural studies. During this period he also created a number of murals for the Boston Public Library, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and Harvard University’s Widener Library. He also worked as an artist-correspondent during World War I.

John Singer Sargent died of heart disease on April 14, 1925, in England and is interred in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey.


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